If they looked up and across the way, beyond the finish line, they saw adjacent hills that were brown and barren as can be, with nary a trace of powder or any indication that this was a setting for athletes who would be heading to the Beijing Olympics that begin Feb. 4.
It is a troubling reality and — given their own reliance on the production of snow, continent-hopping flights powered by diesel fuel and other environment-unfriendly offshoots of their careers — hard-to-reconcile push-and-pull for many of those who will be competing in Alpine skiing or freestyle skiing or snowboarding or Nordic combined events or other outdoor sports that helped put the disappearing “Winter” in Winter Games.
“ Climate change is here. It’s happening. We’re living in it right now. It’s not something that’s going to be in the distant future. It’s here. And you see it with the fires in California, floods in Europe, higher snow levels, shorter winters, longer summers, droughts. It runs the whole gamut. Everywhere in the world is having some effect from it. And there’s not really any turning back,” said Travis Ganong, a 33-year-old from California going to China with the U.S. ski team.
“Selfishly, I hope winters are here in the future,” he said. “But it’s not looking good.”
Global warming is altering, and endangering, his and other sports, perhaps permanently, and not just at the elite level. It affects folks who just want to ski or snowboard for fun and those who make a living from places offering such activities.
And, well, everyone on the planet, of course, because this affects far more than sports, of course.
Just one example: In December, Colorado set a record that stood since the 1880s for most consecutive days without snow. After warm temperatures and just an inch of snowfall by Dec. 30, wind-fueled wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes in the state.
The last eight years rank as the eight hottest on record for Earth, according to two U.S. science agencies, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The glaciers are receding. The winter is starting later and ending sooner,” said John Kucera, the 2009 world champion in downhill who now is a coach for Canada’s Alpine team. “For a sport like ours, we might pay for it sooner than some others. We are dependent on the climate and the weather and that dictates what we’re able to do.”
The fallout is widespread.
It’s harder to find glaciers suitable for training, so athletes need to search for new locales — or even head indoors. It’s harder to hold World Cup events, because too much wind or too much snow or too little snow leads to postponements or cancellations.
It’s harder to find real snow anywhere, so competition increasingly comes on machine-made snow, which has its own deleterious effects on the environment. While the high speeds, steep inclines and sharp angles make danger a constant presence in Alpine skiing, no matter what sort of stuff is underfoot, injury-causing crashes are increasingly common in Nordic skiing and biathlon because the snow created by people produces …….